East of Ardent Houses

  1.      for Maggie Nelson, after David Rattray
  2. I wake up on John’s couch Sunday morning. I want to sleep more but I can’t. Vivian changed my inside clock, & pee too, my aging bladder, swollen with beer, complains like a bomb-threat. It isn’t a hoax. I’m going to die. Satisfying release into fountains where thought doesn’t go, returned to full measure of a liquid in-distinction. Surveilled by that unseeing destination, I piss for the feeling of an hour there, streaming, & that way stay coy about the mirror, a bright shout of ‘come to me’ glass. My eyes are getting warmer & the sleep that’s left is dew, everything is daubed with that. My vision droops like grass. I look at my dick. It’s the disaster of the world. What should I do? I fumble it back in my fly. It’s all right here in this room. The affirmations seem endless. We’re contained.
  3. John’s place is a studio, small. It has more books than shelves the way we always have more books than time, & his bike looks too big for the space, it has wonderland scale, leaned against the little table, where Saturday’s change is mixed up in a swirl. We’re wealthy enough to not care whose is whose. Almost never now it seems. He & I, guys, poets, no longer young, in Brooklyn. It’s 2013. I see how the room’s soft & hard disarray is the art of a futile attempt – to slough off whatever we can of the ways we are framed by the world, as if, before sleep, we could do it. Clothes on the floor, bag where you dropped it, then you’re gone. There’s a flavor of it, passing, when I’m dreamless.
  4. The morning sounds quiet for New York. Sunday coming true in a movie of itself. Orange juice & coffee. Bath robes. the Times. Sunday, coming true in a 20th Century movie. The cinematic century that masturbates forever to its cinematic self, porn of automated reign & the time it created with burning industrial magic & light. Flying over the island on Friday at dusk, en route to Queens, Manhattan skyline like ejaculate, stopped in hosanna & sparkle, roar of the plane, my aisle mate’s phone repeating each frame in the oval with a flash. The city slips into her purse.
  5. Now I hear the inland sea of island traffic, it’s a hush, “Shhh. It’s my silence. I own it. Be quiet.” No. Faint Spanish comes through, running children. They take their sound as quickly as I find it, replaced by some old fashioned church bells. I love the weird digital kind. Soon people will go out to brunch in rich droves. Hungover, they’ll just wait in line. It is so fucking stupid & so fucking nice. The moon will be falling apart in the very blue sky. It’s officially summer.
  6. John’s bed has a black metal canopy frame with no drape, just a vine of Christmas lights that bud in blue & gold. Laura slept over last night, & I like waking up here more than ever since they got together. She & John are a lover’s knot, blankets bunched up at the edge of the bed, a pink sheet covers some of each, revealing the one thing they are in their sweetness. It’s cubist though, the knot’s shattered planes, Cupid’s Braque made by uneven cover.
  7. Every room is always somehow like this to the eye. The message is always too full. The dewy lens is analytical, its instruments dampened in the tropics of being discrete & continuous at once, the lush fact of us, as material, tied together like the prisoners of the king, being brought on horseback to the wrack or tower, through the rain forest. We’re almost all that’s left of the environment.
  8. John turns, Laura shifts a little, the painting won’t make it till noon. They’re going to move in together this fall. I wonder if they’ll stay in this apartment? I count my lucky stars they’re a couple, feel the bliss of truth – they’re really good for one another, & think of how John nearly didn’t take the plunge. Laura’s younger than him. He didn’t want to be ‘that person.’ But who would that be? It’s never John. It’s never Laura. Not for me. Lover’s knots are an imperfect science. Think about how dumb our hands are. How refined.
  9. I lay back down on the couch where I slept. Like everything here I don’t quite fit. My legs hang over the dock of the arm. The room’s water still messy & quiet, John & Laura kind of murmuring & stirring. I close my eyes against my headache. My heart beats too fast. It’s our daughter. I think about the heart in knots, the heart as rope, as noose, as tether. Trapped in some fathomless crater, a rope comes down, unspooled by someone who’s calling you, bringing you up to the moonlight. You’re met with embrace. It happens everyday but it’s impossible to grasp. These tentacled things at the end of my arms are a joke. They’re my hands, an American disease. Carpal Tunnel. I’d never noticed the way it held passage underground. I hate the subway more than ever. My body is the fabled dog, provincial, can’t learn to be down there now at all, the crush of sex & tedium & travel. Some rash of ‘where the fuck am I right now?!’ spreading over the surface of my mind. Wait. Just look at a map of the lines.
  10. Headphones are the only way I handle being down there. Alone with music I connect, then I can go. I think it’s awful to ride with a friend. I feel so lost from them there right beside me. Calling each other, we go more astray. The tracked voice fakes the coordinates. It’s a trap. Small talk is a haunted labyrinth underneath the earth. I want to be moving in the open, in the sun, in a car, swiftly breezing through traffic that’s as easy as the weather. The 20th Century movie convertible. Hair in soft thoroughbred streamers. Old & exhausted, my body throws an idyll rope of dreams. It’s the groan of my thought by other means. I have to go to Penn Station today. That fucking place. What fresh hell. I’m a clown.
  11. But still, I have hours until then & it’s official. I am not falling back asleep. I tell John in a whisper that I’m going to go out for coffee. I don’t want to be ‘that person,’ one who ruins Sunday lover’s slumber. There’s a coffee shop five blocks away. It’s called Tugboat. It’s such a morning after name. The coffee all objectively correlated, steam of the good ship that pulls you along. It lives on the window, right there in an arc of gold letters you can look through. A tugboat. It pulls you along.
  12. But I wish I could teleport there. Once I’m outside, sewn with beer, I blossom with sweat upon contact with sunlight. The hot, weary vampire feel in each step drains me of every ambition. Five blocks. A hundred miles. They’re the same. I stop in the first open place that I see, a bakery, full of sweets & rolls & loaves. Some kind of impossible music is playing. It’s religious, music is, for sure, but the world & the redemption this sound calls has nothing’s touch. Our world doesn’t even know it’s there. Butterflies flood my empty stomach. They’re made from the very same stuff . The perfect insufficiency of longing. The scholarship of light. I can’t come true in this sound I’m hearing. I keep bumping into heaven every time I move my thought. It’s like a wall. I need water. I’m dreaming, & sweating a lot by now, leaning, as always, against, like the end of The Day Lady Died is the posture of the world. Listen for the whisper of the dying things along the keys for as long as you can. When you can. Listen. Listen.
  13. Those butterflies are singing. They’re singing these words & I need to sit down. I need to drink water. I need to call Sarah. The same. So I go find some awning & tree-quilted shade, & plop on the sidewalk. The neighborhood’s barely awake. There in the sun I have hangover thoughts. A morbid genre. Aubades by Poe or Baudelaire. Good morning Brooklyn! I’m a sensate & rain-softened gravestone. Here lies The Endless Necropolis. My hands are a monument to death.
  14. I call Sarah but she doesn’t answer so I leave my voice for her in Cupertino. “Today I leave for Bard.” It’s blunt now – I’m going to be gone for a month. No Sarah, no Viv. Domesticity for many is a place of endless peril. Safety, leeched from that endangering by centuries of violence, is the bubble of my transport & relief. It’s the disaster of the world. What should I do? I slide my phone back in my pocket. The coffee’s too hot. The sun crashes into me. The water’s gone, & my bubble is shit. The Aubade turns from Poe, & finds my orphaned paranoia. Now I’m going to have a stroke. I’ve smoked a hole in my throat. A cherry-burned circle, wealth of oxygen, gradual expansion. The incinerated sheet. I’ll find the first signs of this fire while I’m away. I’ll be diagnosed with cancer there, alone.
  15. & how will I handle the lyme disease tics when I get to Rhinebeck? They’re having their renaissance summer right now, feeding from faun’s blood & doe’s blood in every Hudson River Valley meadow. In every field of clover. In every inch of pavement there. In every strand of hair. In every room. In every room. In every room. I’m here in Brooklyn, a mark. A blood feast with a fertile womblike chemistry disease, in its virility, is dying to inseminate. They’re going to fill me up with cloudy sickness. They’re going to leave me with a cloud of hell to care for in my body. Soon it will be all I know of time.
  16. But all I can think of Sarah. I need her like a panic, & I blush inside, weaken, & then I’m a theory of beauty. There is nowhere else for me to turn. It is the morning of the poem. So I walk back to rouse John & Laura. People say hello to me as I make my way back. I realize my headphones are off. This is strange. Is it trivial to you? I just don’t give a fuck about my life. Not the way that people tell me that I do because I write it. Every word for me is a distillery of prayer – let me be made & poured away in charities of heaven. Keep me from presumptions of consensus in receipt, & let me hold each other as a vast & unknown shore. That’s the sing. It’s a catastrophe of meaning. Is there room in the room that you room in? I want this poetry to be like any room. The message too full, humid, lush, preposterously so. Always of & always under threat. Everything, differently, is.
  17. Suddenly, life becomes replete in generality, & Brooklyn has an olive branch for me. I’m nearly back to John’s building. Arden House. The rope of heart stands up, & crosses itself. A capital T. Whoever named this place left it out. But that’s what we’re here for, mortal in our crosses. It’s Sunday morning after all. We don’t come back.
  18. I do though, right now, come back to the door, & smoke there before I go up. Sunglasses & Advil start singing duet. “People Will Say We’re In Love.” I put my little dove of fears away inside the cage I am, buzz John, & he opens the door. We return to our friends. The little Easter school of coming in to find them. Care is a body of knowledge, & these studious occasions meet our kneeling there with forms whose flesh is learned destitution. It’s mad real. I could throw a bouquet on the stoop of this place I just love it that much. Is that weird?
  19. Now it’s nearly 11. John & Laura are up, he’s making coffee, she’s in the shower. We start to plot the day ahead. Who will take what train en route to where, will we go together to this or that stop. I might go back to sleep with all the quandariness of this but then I stop myself & waken, find the room. Today we can’t slough off the ways we’re contained, but we can hear the sound of that in how we get shit done. The golden Tugboat arc & the Necropolis hold hands. We do moving, skipping to & fro.
  20. Shower. Bagel. Coffee. Make-up. Clothes. Belt. Bag. Phone. Watch. Books. Advil. Charger. Train.
  21. Then it’s noon & we get lost in speed. Laura leaves, she & John will have lunch later on with her mom. So I say goodbye. Hug. See you soon its true. Just a couple of weeks. It’s all so good. John & I catch a train to Manhattan. He tells me he hates the train too. We hold onto the pole as we go. The silver rope of heart, & we’re quiet. Lost in transit.Then we’re in the humid glaring hell of mid-town & it’s terrible today. I’m too old for this place. Or it’s too old for us somehow. What it’s trying to be, & it’s ways, are exhausted. I can feel it in my bones.
  22. Escalator. Penn Station. Departure Board. Escalator. Restaurant. Sandwich. Cigarettes. Beer.
  23. John helps me navigate Penn Station. Its onslaught feels just like the frenzied Lacanian opulence theory can get to, & then I think…right. This is necessary somehow I’m sure. I get that. But otherwise, I need to close this book. We wade around, make idle chatter. My train is called, John sees me into the line, goodbyes & see you soons, so wonderfully true again. Just a couple of weeks. Then he splits. He has a homily to write.
  24. This time the train ride is as pretty as can be. An antidote made of upholstery & music & blurs of green & water. I hold my phone up to the window, open it’s video eye, & the medicine streams that way twice, in real life. The internet is here & not elsewhere. Its astronauts fly in vernacular ships – “Second Life.” “IRL.” “Twitterverse” “Meatspace.”
  25. “Uh-Oh. The Fucking Internet Showed Up.” All of that. Real. This train & this view. The server farm. The shipping crate. The avatar. The url. All of it of meat & blood & hair. Still I love the stuff we say & us, so deep in our delusions. Inventive & dumb. Whoever says they’ve never been that way is not of earth. For me it’s how the poetry is thinking. Endless plains of meaning meet the cliff of their expression. Other people, everywhere, a free fall through the sky. The view bleeds & granulates. Smears & grows lucid. I’m looking out the window with my eyes.
  26. There are so many ticks in those lake beds & hills. I want every one of them to die. They’re multiplying. I close the camera’s eye. We’ve rolled into shadowless sunlight. The car floods, & all the bodies incandesce with brute reality’s luminous confusion. Quick & violent light. I have no words. That’s why, beyond a point, I’m confused by why the poets hate the poetry so much. I’ve learned one way to hold it simply, & maybe I’m just a fool, but I hope to never grow brilliant enough & not love the complexity of others, the relayed years of that in art, & this saturated, every day more saturated, life. There’s an enormous bootleg altar in the valley of our death, as bright as sun, as cheap as dirt, flickering & blazing with mercurial directness. My mind should be an acolyte attendant to the shock of those candles arrayed in absorption. Their flames are a ‘blackness like the most intensest light.’ “Your skin is glowing” means only the world is on fire.
  27. But here I am, worried over ticks. In Rattary’s poem ‘West of Nappaeage’ he writes of his fear of them too. He wears his blue socks on the outside of his corduroys. I want my body to be those blue socks! I want a blue sock Hazmat suit! I am so weak with fear, so weak with the reality of hunger, so weak with reality of care. I wander the world in a giant blue sock like the fucking Cat In The Hat or some such bullshit. I’m lucky. That’s what I really start to think, nearer to Rhinebeck, playing Kanye. Calling Sarah. Finally her voice. They’re doing fine. It’s so hard to care for a kid by yourself. It’s only a month we keep saying. It’s only for a month. We’re really lucky.
  28. “I count my lucky stars.” The Milky Way I am a measure of, & void. Our astronomy of that? More a science of the impasse & a murdered revelation. Contortions of the obvious until no one can see. There are corpses in the street. Care is a body of knowledge, & “tonight all the stars will be out.” Counting & calling. Dusk is still hours away. The sun is raging over all the river towns we pass. They lose in brightness. They’re buried. I almost fall asleep. A half-nap. I never go all the way under. Next thing I know it’s my stop.
  29. Now I’m in Rhinebeck, rolling by cab to my new home at Bard. I have a little room, it’s small & dark, cool. Besides everyone I miss so much what more could this little room need? I get set up, & the whole time I’m thinking of class – my mom on the farm, my dad in a shack in the mountains. Those hard Kentucky places. & now? Here I am, getting paid, getting paid fucking thousands of dollars, to talk & to think about art. To make new friends. To learn myself. I can’t make any sense of it. It’s immodest, this luxury & gladness, disgusting as an instance of a system, but the moment’s still a swoon in my small life. Why would anyone but me ever care how this feels? ‘Here I am.’ I think ‘I live here now.’ It's fucking weird. It’s fucking gross. It’s fucking great.
  30. Cigarettes. Headphones. Computer. Desk. Coffee cup. Water glass. Vitamins. Lighter. Lamp. Bread.
  31. I smoke outside a bunch on the porch of the dorm, meet the people I’ll be living with, excited to get to know them all as well as time & interest allows. I meet Aaron. He’s across the hall with his partner & kids. I hear their three old crying. It’s Vivian. Five blocks. Down the hall. Just a month. A hundred miles. Every year is smaller. It’s really hot today. I’m looking forward to sunset, some hours away, & I’m hungry, so I walk through the woods to a pizza place not too far from where I stay. Smoking on the restaurant patio after my meal I spot a black bug by my shoe. A tick. No that’s a lightning bug. A firefly. A lady bug. A pebble. There is nothing there at all. That’s a tick.
  32. Pizza. Beer. Cigarettes. Water. Cigarettes. Phone. Poetry. Sunlight. Cigarettes. Sweat. Heat. Rest.
  33. Once I’m back I write a few notes at my new desk. Then I feel an itch. I touch my back between the shoulder blades & find a bump. Has that always been there? A tick. I look in the mirror. Bathroom mirror. Closet mirror. It’s a part of my body that I cannot see. In a flash I’ve clawed into the bump & find blood on my fingers. Feel rivulets of blood run down my back. I just keep craning & clawing & turning my neck. This is part of myself I can’t see. More blood. The tick is looser now, but not dislodged. I have no clue what to do. I’m possessed by the paralysis of mania a moment, then I think ‘call Sarah,’ I think ‘No. You can’t burden her with this. She’s doing more than she should have to do right now.’
  34. I remember Aaron across the hall. I need someone to see this part of me I’m blind to. That place is desperation, hunger, peril in the flesh. Somehow I’ve never felt more frightened in my life. I knock on the door, & god knows what I looked like. A bloody fingered lunatic oozing with sweat. I assume that the person who answers the door is Aaron’s partner. But no. It’s the sitter. She has their infant in her arms, & the three year old is sleeping. She puts her finger to her lips. My heart is racing but I’m being quite polite I think although I know the fear is screaming out of me as aura.
  35. I think I might. Would you. I need. Mind. I know it’s. Weird. I just. Scary. It’s. I'm afraid. It’s on this. Part of. Me that. I can’t. See.
  36. She says of course. She’s so cool about it all. We go into the bedroom to find the better light. I turn away from her, unbutton my shirt, & pull it off my back so she can look. I’m in a paused hell, & each thing she says punctures time. This is the absolute hinge.
  37. “I don't think that’s a tick.”
  38.                          “There’s a lot of blood.”
  39. “I’m pretty sure that’s a mole”
  40. “                       “Yeah”
  41.            “Yeah I think that’s a mole.”
  42.      “I hope that’s not really”
  43.               “a tick”
  44.                  “& I’ve told you”
  45.   “something else.”
  46.         “I don’t want you”
  47. “to get sick.”
  48. “Oh my god. No no. Please don’t think that. Oh my god. No. Please don’t worry. God no. It’s not your responsibility.” I said. Then I thanked her, & left. But I didn’t feel better. In blindness & terror I clawed into a place on my body that I cannot see. All I can do is feel. Where did I go in my need & my fear?
  49.               O where did I go?
  50.   O where
  51.               did I go?
  52.   O where
  53.        did I go
  54.              when I went
  55.     in need?
  56. To a room. To a woman. She was caring for children. There she was. It’s the disaster of the world. There is so much gruesome automation. While I felt ok about how she & I had lived it, just as whoever we were in that, our tiny fretful moment, something about it called out to a level of meaning so rich & vast & unreported in prolixity that I felt really sick to even think of it at all. The part of me that I can only see through you. All of me & I need you so bad. But there is so much awful automation. I took a meaningless shower.
  57. The sun was finally going down. I wasn’t tired. I turned out the lights anyway. Climbed into bed. I thought about Sarah & Vivian. I thought about the woman across the hall. Had I not even asked her name? Or did she tell me, & now I’ve forgotten? Either way, it just got worse & worse, the whole feeling. I put on my headphones & stared at the wall of my unfamiliar room. No light was seeping in beneath the door. Outside it was totally dark. All I could think of were people. Just in some general way. Not a humanist system or something, just people. I tried & tried & tried. But I could not imagine all the meaning people made. It was awesome to me & I was wide eyed in the dark like scattered light. I felt the softness of my body pulled by hooks of jealous time, a temperate cloud, & all the meaning made me feeble there, shredded in vaporous ribbons, floating through a substance of unknowable significance but potent, sweet & terrifying equally. Alive. Moving toward the ever nearing fact of honest sleep. Completely sloughed off. Poured away. The room felt more familiar by the second. It really is a revelation when we care for one another but the beauty of our weakness is dissolved in antithetical designs. Just look at a map of the world. Just listen, as you’re leaning, to the whisper of the dying things absorbed by all the locks that masquerade as brightened keys. “My god” I said under my breath “Listen up.” Then I heard the night fill up the room.